Rob Casey is the owner of Salmon Bay Paddle in Seattle and is the author of two paddling guides.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Health Reality Check - Temporary Change of My Course

In January of this year, I was racing in a 6 mile course through Seattle but noticed I was feeling more winded than usual, panting right off the starting line and well into the course. Usually my 17 foot unlimited board makes for an easy flat water race, but on this day I felt like I was on a 9' board going uphill.  This pattern of fatigue continued throughout the winter during moments of heavy exercise when surfing, racing, and downwinding.

By late winter, my 2006 Subaru Forester had sprung roof leaks due to saltwater corrosion (and my poor care) and as a result mold began to build in the carpet.  We began to wonder if my breathing issue was a result of mold.  I booked a doctor's appt to investigate. The doctor's diagnosis came as a shock - I may have a heart issue.  He told me to immediately stop exercising (middle of downwind season?) and to see a cardiologist. My dad has afib and has had two ablation procedures, so it was looking like I inherited the family heart issue.  The cardiologist, Dr Willem at the PolyClinic in Seattle put me through a few tests which confirmed I have an irregular heartbeat.  Bummer.

Four months later, we're still testing various heart medicines to see which recipe works best for me.  Unfortantly, the condition has worsened to the point of me being winded even when walking up stairs, carrying a sup or sometimes even bending over.  Everyone including the doctor tells me there is a solution, and that it can take up to six months to find it.  Looks like I'm on that track.  Everyone also says 'this shouldn't be happening to you, you're so young.'  At 47 and getting winded for walking up stairs, I'm not feeling that young.  

Today's doctor appt resulted in one more medicine adjustment then if that doesn't work we may be talking about a pacemaker or ablation 'procedure' (surgery).  He says the pacemaker will make me 100% but has a month downtime after the procedure. Hmm.. I feel like crap now and it's affecting my paddling business/life so do I do it now wait till fall after my season has slowed or ended?  Difficult choice.

As a result of this, I'm learning to run my business differently by delegating more classes and tours to my instructors and am training new instructors to take the load. Our busiest instructors are now on payroll.  As summer goes in the NW, it's getting busy so I'm only taking a few classes including the more specialized ones where my instructors skills aren't quite there yet.

Will update... 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

4 Common Fears about Learning to SUP

As an instructor, potential customers regularly express fears about SUP that have kept them off the water. We work with those folks to reduce their fears by discussing our methods of reducing potential stress.

These are 4 common concerns we regularly hear from students..

1. (People tell me) I have bad balance.

Solution: We place students on large stable boards, sometimes larger than what we'd normally put them on. Sometimes we have students stand up from the ground on shore before trying it on a board. We also use other techniques such as crossing boards in a T criss-cross shape then having the student stand up on this very stable platform, before releasing them on their own board.

2. I'm not a strong swimmer.

Solution: Guess what, neither am I.  But if you wear your leash and a vest style lifejacket, you won't be separated from your board and will be floating on your own, thus won't need skills like an Olympic open water swimmer.

3. I'm too old.

Solution: We have worked with students in their mid 70's. Those in that age category vary in flexibility but with patient knowledgeable instructors, we can get most anyone standing. There's even a 69 year old gal that participates in our Monday night races.

4. I don't want to fall.

Solution: We've heard "I've paddled 2 years and haven't fallen yet!" We embrace falling. Falling is normal with stand up paddling. Learning to fall safety (which means falling flat) gives you the opportunity to learn how to climb back on your board (in 3 ways).  We often get students wet before their class to reduce fears of falling and preach that falling means you're learning and having more fun.  Worrying about not falling creates stress and reduces fun on the water.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Benefit of Being Prepared - in the Parking Lot

For those of us in the northern regions of North America, we deal with cold air and water on a regular  basis, even on a brisk day in summer. Most paddlers have figured out how to stay warm on the water but we've noticed some who get colder changing into street clothes in the parking lot than they do on the water.  I do get colder than some of my paddling colleagues, so over the years have developed a few methods of staying comfortable.

Here's a few tips for staying warm before and after your paddle.. (All stored in my car)
See also my 30 Tips for Cold Weather Paddling for SUP Magazine

Create a Hypo Kit
"Hypo" means hypothermia.

On-Water. I carry one on-water for myself and for students which may include extra gloves, sun block, hoods and/or a neoprene top to layer over existing gear if we get chilled.  Also a All this stored in a compact waterproof dry bag in a waterproof deck bag on the forward deck of by boards.  I use Seattle Sports, OR and SealLine bags. Teaching classes, I'll add a First Aid and repair kit.

Tip from my instructor Darrell Kirk - Add a $20 bill to your on-water kit in case you land at a location where you could buy extra food, water, or need emergency assistance.
Car Hypo Kit

In My Car. I use a old dry bag to store synthetic thermal clothing such as a 600 fill down jacket with hood, fleece gloves, 2 wind proof fleece beanies, a rain/wind shell, fleece jacket, rain pants. I may throw in extras of each of older clothing for students. In summer, I add a hoody, shorts, pants and a baseball cap to wear after paddles if going out with friends for a beer.  I tend to get wet in my paddles while surfing or playing around so usually my baseball hat will be soaked as well as my shorts and other summer on-water wear.  Nice to put on a dry replacement.

Beyond the Hypo Kit - In my car, I have some nooks and crannies where I tuck away a few other items of comfort and convince..  Chemical heat packs, first aid kit, repair kit (ding repair, para cord, etc), changing towel, head lamp, sun block, drying towel, surf wax, extra fin, extra leash, fin screws, multi-tool, Paddling Washington (River Guide) by Mountaineers Books. And of course one copy of both my Puget Sound Kayak Guide and SUP Book also by the Mountaineers for my reference or others.  I also have extra batteries for my VHF and/or car charge cord.

House Shoes For Convenience - In winter I bring along a pair of fleece lined or other warm material house shoes to slip on after a paddle. Instead of fighting to pull on socks over your sorta wet feet, these slip right on and work for driving home. Uggs are another nice option here.

Tip: Get or make a Changing Robe.  These are great for throwing on to keep the elements on while changing into or out of our wet gear. DryRobe and other brands make one. Kokatat, a kayaking company has one that is Goretex lined to keep the wind chill out.  Add an old camping or yoga mat to stand on to keep your feet insulated from the cold concrete. I cut old camping mats (foam) in half.

Nerding Out a bit, here's my procedure for changing after a paddle in winter..
- Immediately turn on my car to get the heat going.
- Without changing out of my wetsuit and PFD, remove leashes, fins, wash off and load boards, paddles etc.
-Then remove my PFD, wetsuit, booties, etc while standing on my old foam pad. I use a towel around my waist, (smarter) friends use changing robes. Once my hood comes off, my dry beanie goes on. Once I remove my upper wetsuit, a fleece jacket and down jacket go on. Once the lower part of my wetsuit is removed, I immediately put on my pants, house shoes, etc.  One replacing the other to keep as warm as possible.  Reverse process for putting wetsuit on.
- By then the car is warm and I'm good to go.

Car Tip: I recently rusted out my ol' trusty 06' Subaru Forester by not cleaning saltwater off my gear  and wearing my wet wetsuit in the car. With a newish Outback, I'm now washing off my gear, drying it, and changing out of my wetsuit before I leave for home. All wet gear goes in a bucket.

Warm Climate Options -
For those of you in Hawaii or other warm or tropical locations, much of the above gear may be replaced out for UV protected clothing (i.e.: long sleeved shirts), wide brimmed hats, more sun block,  hydration options, etc.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Tips for Falling Off a SUP

Falling off your board is a fact of life in stand up paddling.  If you're not falling or trying not to fall, you're not having much fun or learning. Beginners admit thinking about not falling distracts them from having a good time on the water.

We get students who admit they haven't fallen off yet, thinking that's an accomplishment.  In my mind, it's not a fail to fall.  Infact learning to fall means you can learn how to get back on your board.  Some actually find out they can't due to poor upper body strength, a super wide or thick board (34" or wider, or 6" thick) or they get into panic mode in rough weather while trying to get back on.  Falling in a protected area allows you to test your gear so you're better prepared for a storm or surf wipeout.

Here's a few tips for falling and safely getting back on..

Practice Falling - 
- Before falling, test the water depth.  Ideally don't fall in less than a few feet unless you're experienced with the following..

- Always fall flat like a pancake.  We also called it the Hi-C Plunge.  Not doing so means that if you didn't test the depth before going it, you may catch your leg or ankle going in, or even worse break your neck diving.  While surfing, I can fall in 2-3 of water and not hit the bottom (I'm 6-5, 230lbs).

- Videotape yourself and friends falling to see who can fall the flattest.

Wear a Leash -
We see a ton of folks in open water far from shore without a leash.  It's common to hear 'I never fall away from my board' or 'I don't plan on falling in.'  Murphy's Law comes to mind with both of these.  You will fall, and it's not guaranteed you'll fall next to your board, especially in wind, waves, current and how you fall.  Boards tend to shoot out if you fall off the tail. Next question, how far can you swim?  In Puget Sound where we see non leash activity in summer, water is only 55-60F.  How far can you swim in this temp before you get numb and/or hypothermia?   Interesting, most SUP fatalities in 2015 involved not having a leash, in Florida and similar warm water locations.

If you find your leash gets in your way, attach it to your PFD waist straps (or Co2 waist strap).  Some surfers wear a removable waist strap with a Fastex buckle when not wearing a PFD for this purpose.

In the enclosed photo, I was surfing a tug wave and had fallen off the back of the board.  The board continued to follow the wave after I had fallen off, leaving me behind - until my leash stretched out and pulled it back.

Double Leash - This means while in strong winds, surf and/or off shore conditions, consider either doubling up your leash string in the leash plug (2 strings) or with 2 strings, wear 2 leashes.  It's common in down winding, a popular part of SUP.

Not Going to Wear a Leash?
If you're not going to wear a leash...
- Dress for the water temperature
- Wear a PFD (not on your board). If you lose your board you also lose your PFD.
- Practice swimming long distances in rough water.  2 SUP accidents in 2014 involved paddlers without leashes or a broken leash having to swim 2-3 miles back to shore in open ocean, one in 30t winds.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

10 Tips for Safer Downwinding

When the wind blows in Seattle, Facebook posts start buzzing with paddles discussing forecasts, which spots are firing and who's going and when.  Like many inland waterway locations a few hours or more from the ocean, downwinding is the next best bet for a adrenaline pumping good time.

Despite the excitement, downwinding can get out of control quick due to being offshore, dealing with strong winds, current and paddling groups who may not be prepared for the conditions.

Here's a few tips for keeping your group in control so you will have more fun.

1. Only go out in conditions you and your group can handle.  Not sure? Start out in smaller conditions and see how they do. Keep in mind who is slower and who likes to dart ahead.

2. Check all gear prior to leaving shore. Check to make sure your crew all have leashes, PFDs and the appropriate boards for the conditions.  Race boards are fun on flat water, but in big bumps they can be very unstable leaving you in the water more than on the board.

Tip: Everyone forgets gear. Stock your car with extra leashes, paddles and fins - the most commonly forgotten items.

3. Communication Devices. A smart DW crew will have VHF, walk-talki or waterproofed cell phones (in range) for each person. Use to check on slower paddlers or your shuttle drivers if you overshoot your take-out.  Check to make sure everyone's device works and is synced before leaving.

4. Pick a line for your run and stick to it. Discuss the line with each member of your group and determine a backup plan if one or all of your group overshoots the take-out. Again a good time to have communication devices and a backup plan.

5. Be selfless on your run. It may be the most epic conditions of your life but how are your buddies doing behind you, or ahead of you? is someone struggling to keep up or has a faster paddler overshot the take-out? In either case, your epic day will lose it's appeal when you start losing your buddies. A few years ago, a DW crew off of the coast of Cali didn't notice their friend was missing until they got to shore. Meanwhile, he was paddling 3 miles in 30 knot seas back to shore (he made it).

6. Be in great shape for downwinding.  DW runs don't always go as expected.  Sometimes the wind changes 180 degrees and require a long paddle upwind to your shuttle pick-up or back to your put-in. How are you upwind paddling skills? Do you know and are in shape for proning your Sup upwind?

7. Be willing to sit or prone your SUP.  If you're unstable going downwind, consider sitting or kneeling. You will have just as much fun and get plenty of rides. Instead of walking the board, lean forward or backwards to trim.  Choke up on your paddle holding it just above the blade.

Going upwind?  Prone is the most effective but also exhausting if you don't practice it often.  Prone is also a good skill if your paddle breaks or your lose it and in non emergency situations - great cross training.  Lots of folks kneel but if paddling upwind, you're still quite tall thus making it hard to move forward. Sitting keeps you lower than kneeling with more wind resistance.  Again choke up on your paddle. Holding the handle will turn the board at each forward stroke.

8. Rescues. Sh.. happens and it's nice to be better prepared when it does.  I always carry a tow rope, VFH, flashlight for late arrivals and wear a helmet in big conditions. Many a friend have bonked their head on their board during falls.  Do you the a plan if a buddy's leash breaks? How about a Plan B or C if you miss your take-out? Get tow ropes from NorthWater, NRS or Kokatat.

Tip: Only rescue someone if you know 100% that you can.  If doing so puts your life in danger or a difficult situation, perform a visual rescue by directing others more qualified for the task.

9. Learn how to surf. Not just downwind but coastal surf.  Having consistently shaped waves will allow you learn board control, turning, footwork and how to work a wave to your benefit.

10. Ever have your board fly over your head like a leaf after a downwind wipeout?  Get on your board from the upwind side. Doing so from the downwind side will expose the upwind rail to the incoming wind which will lift and launch it over your head.  Another reason to have a helmet.
I like helmets from NRS and Gath Sports.

Tip: Having trouble standing up after a fall?  Start paddling before you stand up. The forward momentum and paddle in the water will create stability before you're on your feet.  Short quick strokes!  Can't stand up? Don't worry about it, just sit or kneel.  Trying continuously to stand up will tire you out.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Why Freighter & Tug Surfing is Safe

Recently someone said they felt the Freighter and Tug Surfing we do sounds frightening as the boats are so big, going so fast, how could it be safe?  Truth is, it's actually quite safe as we are quite a distance from each boat when the waves arrive. We're never in the shipping lanes, block marine traffic or take unnecessary risks.

The number of us surfing these waves are just a handful especially in non summer months.  The waves take work, patience and skill once the wave comes (not having a prior wave to show where it breaks or how it'll break).

Freighter Waves

Using we track freighters coming into Puget Sound on the AIS system.  We like boats going over 17 kts for a bigger wave of course resulting in a better ride and longer duration wave sets.

After the boats pass West Point (see diagram), it takes the wave nearly 20-30 minutes to arrive to the shore where we're waiting.  That said, the boat may actually be 5-10 miles from us in Ballard when the wave arrives. On the faster boats going 23 kts the boat may be passing Three Tree Point (Burien, WA) when our wave arrives.  Southerly winds and/or an ebb tide can slow the wave. Northerly and/or flood tides can speed it up.  Strong outgoing current from rain emerging from the Locks adjacent to our break can flatten waves coming in.

Learn more about our Freighter Wave Surfing class.

Freighter Wave Surfing Diagram

Tug Waves

Our tugs come out usually as a pair and pass through Shilshole Bay in a curve originating from the Chitenden Lock, passing West Point and then head south towards Harbor Island to pickup a load. Then they cruise up the Inside Passage to Alaska for 2 weeks.  If I have students out I'm in touch with the tug company to confirm we'll have a boat during our class time.

We catch the boat wave about .25 miles from their outer curve in the Bay. This is several hundred yards from the boats.  Like all boats big or small, their waves leave each side and push out forward but away form the boat.  Even if we were on it's stern, the water pushes at great force out thus pushing the boat forward.  There's no way we could get in there if we wanted to.  In a Seattle Times article on our surfing a few years ago, concerned folks who commented on the online page felt we were endangering ourselves and thus costing tax payer money for rescues.  Basic physics of how boats move forward work here thus there's is no way we can get sucked into the props. At any rate we're quite far from this section of the boat.  And we've never been rescued. But wedo get wet, but that's standard in surfing.  Our crew wear PFDs, leashes (sup) and dress for immersion.

The tugs can put off large waves but are very safe in that they don't put the gas on when there's other boats nearby. We don't have a tug day if rec boats are nearby.  If free of such boats, their standard wave at full speed can be up to 5' tall. We get 3 waves which we have to work dropping in.  On a good day we can surf nearly a half mile to West Point. Note our inside track vs the tug path.  This path is in a non boating area partially due to submerged rocks near shore at lower tides.

Learn more about out Tug Surfing class

Tug Surfing Diagram

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Understanding Tidal Rapids

I teach and love paddling in the tidal rapids of Deception Pass which is 1.5hrs north of Seattle. Much like a whitewater river, there's eddies, eddylines, holes, standing waves and swift current up to 9 kts.  Unlike a river, these rapids change direction four times a day, saltwater and are located on Puget Sound.

There's never an issue of low water, no current or a specific season in which they run. Unlike rivers there's no hazards such as big holes or strainers and the energy is concentrated in a small area vs the length of an entire river.  There's many tidal rapids on the Sound, some very small which only go a few knots, and others in British Columbia, Canada that run twice as fast as Deception Pass!  Look up Skookumchuck on Sechlet Inlet, Seymore Narrows, Surge Narrows, etc.
Tidal rapids are also a super way to build your overall rough water skills and confidence as well as cross train for other pursuits such as overnight open water trips, surfing, downwinding and racing. We also use tidal currents to give us a free tide to get to our destination quicker. Learning how to use them makes for covering a lot of water in short
time. Not planning for currents can lead to a long day! On December 6th 2015 is the Deception Pass Dash a legendary 6 mile race through the Pass in current which has gone on for nearly a decade and open to all paddle craft.  A super fun race to do or watch!
Tidal Rapids - When tidal current pulls or pushes saltwater over a shallow reef or narrow passageway thus creating river like effects such as waves, whirlpools, boils, eddy lines and swift current.  Search 'Surf Skookumchuck' for a stronger version up in BC.
Current - Horizontal movement of water. We use Current Tables for planning DP trips. Tides - Vertical movement of water.  We use Tide Tables for planning trips in areas of no or little current.  We'll use both in areas of mixed tides/current to determine if there will be a beach to land on and/or which currents use to get to our destination quicker or to avoid. Boaters and paddlers alike often wait for currents to change to make better time.  
Ebb - Outgoing tide - We prefer the ebb in DP for beginning classes. Easier to work with, cleaner lines.Flood - Incoming tide - Stronger than the ebb in DP, more advanced current in specific spots. Slack - 10-15min period between the ebb and flood. Usually no or little current.  
Mixed Diurnal Tides - 2 ebbs and 2 floods during a 24hr period. These are common in Puget
Sound. Diurnal tides with just one ebb and one flood are more common in the Strait of Juan de Fuca or Pacific Coast. Most tidal cycles here are 6 hours long. 
Tidal Exchange - General term for describing a full tidal cycle (approx 6 hours) from low to high tide or reverse. Here in Seattle we get larger daytime tidal exchanges in the Spring
from a -3 tide in the morning to a +13 in the evening. A cycle of this range means there's a lot of water moving in or out thus stronger currents.  

Spring Tides - Large tidal exchanges that occur not because of the season but during New and Full moons.Neap Tides  - Smallest tidal exchanges during quarter moons. Neap is the Saxon word neafte meaning scarcity. 
Eddy - Not Eddy Vedder or Van Halen! A section of water that pushes upstream due to downstream current wrapping around an obstruction like a rock. We use eddies to enter current from and/or rest in. Often bull kelp will be in eddies. Eddylines - The division between moving current and the eddy. It can flip a board or boat if you hit it wrong!Ferrying - Crossing a river without losing ground. Aim your board at approx 45 degrees to the downstream current (facing upstream) and watch your destination, usually another eddy.  Less angle for faster current. 

Reading Current Tables - 015-11-07 Sat 12:42 AM PST -0.0 knots Slack, Ebb Begins2015-11-07 Sat 3:13 AM PST -5.9 knots Max Ebb2015-11-07 Sat 6:39 AM PST 0.1 knots Slack, Flood Begins

What does this mean? At 12:42, slack gives us time to paddle through the Pass with no or
minimal current. A great time to enter and see the Pass look like a smooth(ish) lake. Soon thereafter, the ebb current begins to build but first as a trickle then rapidly growing in 2-3hrs to a Max Ebb, the fastest of the cycle. Then it tapers off and drops in the next 2-3hrs back to minimal current, then slack. Then it switches direction and the Flood begins - builds, maxes, drops, slacks, then ebb...
When I take beginners to current into the Pass, we go ideally at slack before the ebb. Canoe Pass is the most tame section, easily accessible from Bowman Bay. Canoe also has less boating traffic in summer. For the flood we enter at Cornet Bay. It's fun to enter on the tail end of the flood, work it until it dies, slacks then turns into the ebb, so you see a sample of the entire cycle!

Resources -
I use Captain Jacks and online sites such as Mobile Graphics for planning my trips and classes. I'm a visual person and need a simple visual guide to the tides/currents. Fundamentals of Kayak Navigation is the best guide I've found for understanding currents and tides for paddling. Author David Burch is in Seattle and owns Starpath School of Navigation. He has many marine guides on navigation and weather. Another fun one is his Tidal Currents of Puget Sound which shows using arrows how currents move in Puget Sound. Planning a trip? U need these guides!